Unsung hero is a term that could have been coined for Brian James – but it is not one that he would choose to describe himself. The honour – gained when Brian won the award at the Harrogate Tourism Awards earlier this summer, could scarcely have been more richly deserved. Brian joined the estate’s maintenance team straight from school 50 years ago and soon became part and parcel of the Ripley scenery, driving around in the tractor, cutting thistles in the park with a scythe, repairing rooves, unblocking drains, splitting logs: the tall figure topped by the flat cap, ever helpful, ever polite, the one who would always help if he could. The old Massey Ferguson with the battered trailer gave way to the quad bike and the strimmer replaced the scythe, but the man behind the machinery didn’t change. He does all the jobs that unsung heroes do: clears the litter from the footpaths, car parks and roadside verges, empties the bins, and keeps Ripley and its surrounds looking neat and tidy. If there is a job to be done, Brian is there to do it.
For a man of few words, Brian could never be described as a man with few interests: he developed a love of photography and is very knowledgeable about the local lead mining industry and the archaeology and history of the surrounding countryside. He loves cycling, covering huge distances as he tours the Lincolnshire Wolds or cycles to Scarborough and back – before lunch.
Brian is something of a rarity nowadays – someone who has earned everyone’s respect and admiration the hard way, by working hard, being nice and always doing his best for others. In an age when everyone else wants to become an instant celebrity and enjoy their five minutes of fame, Brian has achieved an accolade that is worth so much more. Being an unsung hero, all this fuss is the last thing that Brain would have wanted: thus, having expressed our respect and gratitude to him and subjected him to a few uncomfortable minutes in the spotlight, we can let him go back to being Brian, the man who quietly enjoys his life, his work and his many interests. Brain, we love you!